A western Pennsylvania trial court judge has quashed subpoenas issued by attorneys for
suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin in a criminal case against the jurist in which she is accused of using court staffers for political work.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey A. Manning granted requests by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office and the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts seeking to quash subpoenas issued by Orie Melvin’s defense team in connection with the justice’s preliminary hearing scheduled today before a magisterial district judge.
In his memorandum opinion, a copy of which was provided to the Pennsylvania Record, Manning also simultaneously denied a motion for recusal that had been filed by Orie Melvin in which the justice requested the trial court recuse itself from the motions to quash.
According to the opinion, Orie Melvin sought recusal because one of the subpoenas was issued to Kevin Sasinoski, an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge, and Sasinoski’s wife, Lisa Sasinoski.
Orie Melvin also sought recusal because she previously served on the western Pennsylvania trial court bench alongside Manning and others.
“Neither of these presents a valid reason for the Court to recuse from consideration of the Motion to Quash,” Manning wrote, noting that neither Judge Sasinoski nor his wife are party to the proceeding.
Manning wrote that it is incumbent upon one who asserts that a judge should be disqualified to produce some “evidence of the necessity for that disqualification,” and that that hasn’t happened in this case.
“The defendant has pointed to no facts that would suggest that this Court is not capable of addressing the Matter pending before it in a manner consistent with the dictates of the Canons of Judicial Conduct,” the opinion states.
Manning also cited a judicial canon that states that the court addressing the motions would not “undermine public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.”
As for the motions to quash, they related to subpoenas Orie Melvin’s lawyers had issued to various Pennsylvania court administrators, from the Superior Court to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
Superior Court administrators are apparently involved because some of the charges against Orie Melvin stem from her time as an appellate court judge on that bench.
She stands accused of having used her then-Superior Court staff to work on her campaign for a seat on the high court, which she eventually won.
Judges of all levels in Pennsylvania are elected.
In granting the various motions to quash, Manning wrote that evidence that would be used to impeach the credibility of witnesses is not relevant at a preliminary hearing, and it appears from the “broad and reaching scope of the request for production for documents” attached to the subpoenas issued to the administrative employees and Justice Max Baer in particular that Orie Melvin is seeking impeachment evidence.
“The subpoenas represent the proverbial ‘fishing expedition’ where the defendant hopes to locate, in this large volume of material, some evidence that might be helpful in presenting a defense to the charges,” Manning wrote.
Manning also wrote that nowhere does Orie Melvin offer any identification of the specific evidence or testimony that would be secured pursuant to the subpoenas that would “negate any of the elements of the crimes charged.”
“At best, the defendant suggests that there may be evidence relevant to negation of a prime facie case contained within the mountain of documents requested and/or that these witnesses might offer testimony negating a prime facie case,” the ruling states. “That is not enough.”
Manning also wrote that the court disagrees with the defense contention that the commonwealth doesn’t have standing to challenge any of the subpoenas issued.
“The defendant offered as the only authority on this position a civil case,” the ruling states. “That case has no application here.”
Orie Melvin faces nine criminal counts, which were leveled by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.
The justice remains suspended from her duties on the high court, leaving six members on the bench.
In related news, the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline will hold a hearing in mid August into whether Orie Melvin should continue to receive her pay pending the criminal trial.
Orie Melvin’s sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, was recently convicted of similar corruption charges and subsequently sent to prison.